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An employee benefit that's not just child's play.

Three years ago, Certified Grocers of Florida set out to solve one of the problems created by today's numerous two-wage-earner families--finding quality day care for employees' children during the workday.

"We realized the problems our parents were facing finding good child care," says Barbara Dee Arthur, Certified's business relations manager. Concerned about the situation, the Ocala, Fla.-based, retailer-owned distributor set up an action committee in 1982 with Arthur at the helm.

"We looked at several ways to go including reserving slots at existing facilities and combining our efforts with those of other companies," Arthur says. In the end, she says the construction of an on-site center was considered the most sensible idea, due to the company's off-the-beaten-track location on the outskirts of town. Last July, Certified opened the doors of a freestanding child development center, built on the wholesaler's 200-acre site, to give employees in need high-quality and convenient day care for their children.

Officials of the wholesaler, which serves some 1,800 stores in Florida and Georgia, believe the 5,500-square-foot facility is the first of its kind in the food wholesaling industry, and Certified President Peter Foy points to the high caliber of child care provided there with a sense of pride and accomplishment. "We're built and designed for a quality learning experience--not just for babysitting," he says, adding that the company "wanted to enhance its image" in the minds of its approximately 700 employees by offering them this new benefit.

The center, which operates on a nonprofit basis, offers a doubly attractive benefit for working parents. The facility has the convenience that only an onsite facility can provide and Certified employees pay a third less for its services than they would for public child care facilities in the area. And because the facility qualifies for tax advantages, Certified should make up the construction costs--the size of which Foy would not disclose--in approximately two years.

As might be expected, other companies have been interested in Certified's program and the wholesaler welcomes visitors from companies that are toying with the idea of a child care facility themselves. Recently, officials from Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets took the tour. Publix is now in the process of setting up an employee child care center of its own.

Despite all the positive aspects of the program, at the very beginning Certified's child care center was hardly the morale-booster it was expected to be. "We thought there would be a positive rub-off effect on the entire staff--but the center ended up having the opposite effect on some at first," says Foy.

Some employees, he says, feared that the cost of constructing the building would affect the size of their next pay raises. To dispel this and other employee concerns, Foy and Jill Browder, the director of the program, made a series of visits to the company's various departments to explain to employees how the center would be financed, how it would operate and what type of care the children would receive.

Nonetheless, the response was a bit disappointing at first. Although preliminary employee interest surveys showed as many as 50 possible attendees, Browder says only 18 children showed up on opening day. But within the first month participation gradually began to pick up and 27 youngsters were soon on board.

By August, the number grew to 36, and by September, to 43. Now there are approximately 50 attendees each day, says Browder, adding, "Child care centers are not always well-received at first because some parents have had bad experiences with centers, particularly with needless calling to come and pick up the children. I'm a mother ... and know what it's like to want quality care. The public centers in this area usually don't have a medical person on staff either, but at Certified, there is a company nurse who is always at our service."

The Certified center is loaded with qualified people. Browder, who holds a B.S. degree in elementary and early childhood education from the University of Tennessee, and a Masters and educational specialist degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Florida, supervises a staff of 10 women who care for and instruct children ranging in ages from 3 months through kindergarten age. On the staff are a cook/nutritionist, seven teachers and two assistant teachers. Those who teach the older children have four-year college degrees in child development, while the other teachers have completed a one-year child care services program at a community college. The assistant teachers have had experience working with young children and receive ongoing training.

The center, which has a home-like atmosphere, includes a kitchen; a separate changing area; five classrooms equipped with restrooms, sinks, water fountains and storage areas; a screened patio for infants and toddlers; a large multi-purpose room; and a covered patio and playground for preschool- and kindergarten-aged children.

The program itself is not all child's play. It is geared toward developing the child emotionally, socially, physically and intellectually. It is based on each child's individual maturation, and teachers keep detailed development records on all children, including the youngest babies.

Child care fees, which are $30 a week for infants and toddlers who are the children or legal dependents of Certified employees and $25 a week for older children of employees, are conveniently handled through payroll deductions. The fee covers 10 hours of daily child care; breakfast, lunch and two snacks a day; learning supplies such as paper, pencils, paints and crayons; and routine visits by the company's registered nurse. A 10% discount is given to families for the second child attending the center and a 15% discount is given to a third child, and any others who are enrolled.

The youngsters are divided into five age groups ranging from infants to kindergarten age, Browder says.

The center is licensed to take on up to 105 children, but Browder thinks 75 children would be ideal so that the center can remain "uncrowded" and the ratio of children to attendants can be kept as low as possible.

A Work Day of Care

The Certified child development center was clearly designed with parents in mind. The center opens at 5:45 a.m. and closes at approximately 6:15 p.m. every weekday (with the exception of five company holidays) to accommodate warehouse employees working the 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift and office workers on an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule. Originally, the center was to be open until 11 p.m. to accommodate the warehouse's night shift, but so far there has not been sufficient interest in child care through that hour.

"The center is composed of the children of truck drivers, rail receiving personnel, dock loaders, and management personnel, such as the head of purchasing," says Browder. Employees often drop by on their lunch hour or during coffee breaks to visit with their children or to view them through observation windows outside each classroom.

So far, she says, there are more office employees than warehouse workers participating in the program. Browder feels this is probably due to the fact that the office staff from Certified's administration building includes more women, while the warehouse workers are mainly men who are not as accustomed to child care duties. However, the picture seems to be changing. Browder says she has been seeing more and more men "becoming involved"--dropping their children off at the center in the morning and returning for them at night.

Since it is still far from reaching its capacity, the Certified center is also able to take on children of non-employees at this time. However, non-employees pay a higher fee than Certified personnel and their children can be bumped from the program whenever the child of a Certified employee needs the slot.

Certified employees are entitled to use the center on a "drop-in" basis as well, which enables the non-working spouse of a Certified worker to leave a child in the center's care for an afternoon at attractive discount rates. There is also a summer program at the center for employees' elementary school children who are on summer vacation from school.

Pleased Parents

Those parents who have been taking advantage of this latest Certified company benefit have nothing but positive things to say about the program.

"This is fantastic! It sure takes a load off your mind," says Jackie Cook, who works in Certified's accounting department and has two children, aged 3 and 5, enrolled at the center. "The price is excellent and the center is well arranged. Besides," she says jokingly, "the children don't eat as well at home as they do here!"

Another working mother, Teresa Murphy, whose husband works on Certified's HBA assembly line, seems equally satisfied with the quality of the care. "I have two children in the center, at toddler and pre-K levels, and they were in a public nursery until this center opened. They seem to be adjusting better here. The facilities are better and there are more planned activities, like painting and field trips. The other center was more of a babysitter."

Murphy works full time at the local courthouse and tries to stop by at the Certified center during her lunch hour whenever time permits. Her husband, who works the nighttime 3 to 11 p.m. warehouse shift, holds down another job earlier in the day, but often visits the children at the center on his way to work in the mid-afternoon. For young families like the Murphys, more than anything else, Certified's child development center provides peace of mind -- and that's a benefit that's hard to beat and impossible to put a price on.
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:on-site child care
Author:Linsen, Mary Ann
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Jan 1, 1985
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